EQI.org Home | Daniel Goleman

It's Popular but Is It Science?

Catherine Aman
Corporate Counsel

This is a backup copy of an article from law.com

Another windowless hotel ballroom, another keynote speech. This speaker, however, is different. He's psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman. And he has the audience -- several hundred members of the International Personnel Management Association -- in the palm of his hand.

His topic is emotional intelligence. It's a phrase that appears in the titles of both of his best-selling books and a subject on which he has made himself something of a guru. The lecture is a well-crafted package, one of hundreds of talks he has given here and abroad. It not only summarizes recent research on psychology and the brain without putting the listeners to sleep, but also demonstrates how this arcana is invaluable to corporate managers. Salted with humorous anecdotes from the world of work -- many drawn from his latest book, "Working with Emotional Intelligence" (Bantam Books, 1998) -- and delivered with I've-been-there-too affability, the speech is entertaining as well as convincing. Goleman's enormously popular argument is all here in a nutshell.

He starts with a painless lesson on the architecture of the human brain, using simple drawings to point out the various cerebral blobs and bulges that embody our sensory, emotional, and intellectual powers. The brain grew from the bottom up, he explains, and the amygdala, a sort of neurological basement crammed with our emotional memories, is the foundation of it all. "Emotions have primacy over thought," he says, "because they're essential for survival."

Occasionally, however, the emotional brain runs amok, abruptly unleashing strong and inappropriate reactions that can be disastrous in the workplace. Even in a business as brutal as professional boxing, the unchecked amygdala can wreak havoc on a career. When Mike Tyson gnawed off Evander Holyfield's ear, says Goleman, "that was a bad business decision."

Goleman now can easily pivot his chuckling audience from the undisputed terrain of brain science to the somewhat fuzzier realm of emotional intelligence and what it has to contribute to corporate America. Emotional intelligence, he explains, is made up of four elements: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social skill (or, as he puts it, "managing emotions in other people"). Within each of these quadrants are a handful of learned abilities, or competencies, such as self-confidence, emotional awareness, and persuasiveness.

Goleman is making a very compelling case. There's only one small glitch. When the woman charged with putting transparencies on the overhead projector gets ahead of Goleman's text, he shoots her a severe look and snaps, "Do you think we're there yet?" Flustered, she hastily switches the slide.

Though this momentary lapse in Goleman's friendly demeanor is fleeting, at least a few in the audience take note. Afterward, one woman in the elevator asks others whether anyone else noticed the incident. Someone says that he did, and both agree they're pretty skeptical of this guy Goleman.

Nonetheless, conference attendees quickly snap up 40 hardcover copies of his latest book and 30 of his previous one, "Emotional Intelligence" (Bantam Books, 1995). A long line, mostly female, rapidly forms to get the author's signature. As he signs, Goleman chats briefly with each book-buyer. They all seem to leave smiling.

While Goleman's area of expertise may expose him to sniping about his own emotional intelligence, there can be no doubt that he has plenty of the traditional kind of intelligence. His resume includes a Harvard Ph.D. in psychology and a 12-year stint writing about behavioral and brain sciences for The New York Times. Clearly driven, Goleman wrote or edited a total of 12 books -- on topics ranging from meditation and the creative spirit to the psychology of self-deception -- before hitting the jackpot with "Emotional Intelligence." According to the author, there are now nearly 5 million copies of the book in print, in 30 different languages.

The idea that emotional and motivational competencies, rather than IQ, are major indicators of job success was developed by Goleman's teacher at Harvard, the late David McClelland. McClelland took his concept to market in 1964, founding McBer & Company, which pioneered the use of these competencies to select, assess, and train employees. McBer began working with the Hay Group in 1985, after both companies were acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi plc. In 1989 they bought themselves out from the Saatchis and formed a partnership together.

Like his mentor, Goleman founded and heads his own company, Emotional Intelligence Services, which has a working relationship with the Hay Group, consulting with it on certain clients and referring business back and forth. Founded in 1943 "to focus on the human element in industry," Hay is now one of the world's biggest human resources consulting firms, with 70 offices in 34 countries. Competency evaluation and development make up a significant chunk of that business. During its 35 years in this field, the company has amassed a vast database of the competencies it has found to be necessary to succeed in a wide variety of jobs. Goleman drew on the data in writing his latest book. Hay's database also supports a test of emotional intelligence, called the Emotional Competence Inventory, that is jointly owned by Goleman, Hay, and Richard Boyatzis, a professor at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University who is also one of McClelland's former students. The fee for three days of training in how to administer the ECI is $3,000. A so-called 360-degree evaluation tool, the ECI gathers an individual's assessment of his or her own emotional intelligence competencies as well as input from up to 12 people who work closely with him or her.

Although the Hay-Harvard connection makes the link between research psychology and its application in the corporate workplace seem watertight, not all academics are convinced. While they hail Goleman for winning widespread attention and respect for the emotional intelligence concept with his first book, some express reservations about the specifics he supplies in the second one.

Angelo DeNisi, a professor of management at Texas A&M University and president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, believes the problem is that no one has determined precisely what constitutes emotional intelligence. "I find it an extremely attractive idea that makes great intuitive sense," he says, "but measuring it is a problem." With no standard measure, emotional intelligence tests run the risk of being discriminatory, he says.

Jennifer George, a professor at the Jones Graduate School of Management at Rice University, expresses concern about Goleman's broad definition of emotional intelligence and says that "more research is needed to narrow it down from everything that might predict success apart from IQ." And Yale professor Robert Sternberg sounded a similar note when he reviewed "Working with Emotional Intelligence" in the autumn 1999 issue of Personnel Psychology. "As someone who has supported the broadening of concepts of intelligence, I am somewhat taken aback at how broad Goleman's conception is," he writes. "It includes a combination of abilities, personality traits, motivations, and emotional characteristics that seems to stretch even the most liberal definition of intelligence, and seems close to a conception of almost anything that matters beyond IQ."

Lawrence Richard, a principal with Newtown Square, Pennsylvania-based Altman Weil, Inc., who has worked exclusively with lawyers on emotional intelligence issues for 18 years, deems this "a naive criticism." Richard, who was a trial lawyer for ten years before getting a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, cites two decades of behavioral science research on competencies done by Boyatzis at Case Western Reserve and asserts, "It's not fuzzy."

Despite the academic squabbles, everyone agrees that the concept has tremendous allure. "I would be glad if someone were able to define emotional intelligence and find a way to measure it," says DeNisi. "It really is an appealing idea."

The business community clearly is eager for more from Goleman. He says that the direction of his next book will probably be influenced by the huge response he received for an article he wrote last year for the Harvard Business Review called "What Makes a Leader." Reprints of the piece are one of the review's all-time best-selling items.

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